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‘Learning together’ focus of president’s opening address

‘Learning together’ focus of president’s opening address

08/22/2019 

SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum highlighted the accomplishments of faculty, staff and students on campus and touched on a number of challenges facing higher education during his Fall 2019 opening address on Thursday morning.

Perhaps the most pressing of those issues is growing nationwide concern about the mental health of college students, he said, noting that a recent survey of college presidents showed that 90 percent of all public colleges have made student mental health a greater priority over the last three years. Common problems range from anxiety and stress to loneliness and depression.

He offered a motto for how the campus community can best work together in the future: No one learns alone.

Although the university’s Counseling Center is a first stop for students needing non-crisis mental health resources, faculty and staff may also play a large role in making students feel welcome and at ease on campus, Bitterbaum said. He shared a note he received from a student who had difficulty with an assignment but reached out to the professor of the course. The faculty member said, “You can do it. Let me show you how.”

The student replied that “Those words were more important to me than winning a $1 million lottery.”

“Our students want to be accepted, they want to be listened to and they want to be acknowledged,” Bitterbaum said. “That’s something we can all do together.”

Other topics addressed Thursday:

  • Bitterbaum acknowledged a number of ongoing construction projects happening on campus and at the university’s William H. Parks Family Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education sites at Raquette Lake and the Brauer Field Station. A new concrete floor was recently poured in Alumni Arena and work continues on the façade of Park Center. Moffett Center renovations will continue through the 2019-20 academic year and the ground floor is expected to reopen by the Fall 2020 semester.
  • Graduate outcomes for former SUNY Cortland students remain positive. A recent survey of the Class of 2017 shows that 98% are employed or are continuing their education. A large percentage of that class — 85% — have remained in New York state, although graduates from the Class of 2017 have also settled in countries around the world as well as 34 U.S. states.
  • National surveys have shown that the newest generation of college students have different expectations of the purpose of higher education, particularly when it comes to their preparation for the workforce. Bitterbaum noted that the university’s strengths already fit what today’s students are seeking: hands-on experiential learning in in-demand fields.
  • SUNY Cortland has been recognized by a number of national organizations for factors including the quality of specific academic programs, campus and community safety and recent renovations to eateries in Corey Union. Money magazine named the university to its 2019 “Best Colleges for your Money” list. Once again, SUNY Cortland was the highest-ranked of SUNY’s comprehensive colleges.
  • Bitterbaum highlighted a number of grants received by faculty and staff in the past year, including a $95,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to biological sciences faculty members Andrea Davalos and Laura Eierman to study the threat of invasive jumping worms.
  • Bitterbaum’s remarks were followed by a number of faculty and staff presentations. SUNY Cortland’s Marketing Office unveiled a new secondary mark that will be used in a variety of campus and admissions communications. More information is available at Cortland.edu/toolkit.
  • Other presentations included “Assisting Distressed and Distressing Students,” “Understanding the Experience of Students of Color at SUNY Cortland” and “SUNY Cortland’s Writing Programs.”

A video recording of the meeting will be posted at https://video.cortland.edu/Watch/opening-2019-fall.